The House Appropriations Committee voted yesterday to tighten existing curbs on federal funding of abortions for low-income women, sparking predictions of another year-long battle with the Senate on the issue.
No formal separate vote was taken as the 55-member committee routinely approved the tighter abortion curbs as part of the appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor and Health, Education and Welfare."This is just the beginning of the ball game," said Rep. Edward J. Patten (D-N.J.).
Meanwhile, White House sources said President Carter is upset and may be urged by advisers to veto the huge $58 billion money bill once it gets through Congress because the committee added more than $800 million to the president's requests for a variety of programs. The biggest increases were $300 million for the National Institutes of Health, $125 million for medical schools and $260 - million for higher education aid.
As approved by the Appropriations Committee yesterday, the bill allows federal funding of abortions under the Medicaid program for low-income women only if the life of the woman would be endangered if the pregnancy were carried in term.
Existing law, which expires Oct 1, allows abortion funding when the life of the woman is endangered when the pregnancy would result in severe and long-lasting physical health damage to the woman and when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.
Last year the House voted tough abortion curbs similar to those approved by the committee yesterday, while the Senate voted for looser restrictions. It wasn't until Dec. 7 that the compromise in existing law was struck.
Until a few years ago, the federal government was funding more than 250,000 Medicaid abortions yearly, but the House then began adding one-year riders to Labor-HEW funding bills to curb the practice.
Physicians have estimated that allowing abortions only where the life of the woman is endangered would cut the number of federally funded abortions to only a few hundred or at most a few thousand a year.
Groups like the National Abortion Rights League argue that this would rob low-income women of the right to abortion, since they can't afford to obtain it privately. They have also argued that the tight provision bars Medicaid abortions even where the fetus is known to be malformed or abnormal, or where severe mental damage to the woman may result from the [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
Nellie Gray, president of March for Life, an anti-abortion group, said after yesterday's action that even allowing abortions only to save the life of the woman is too permissive. She said it would permit "an awful lot of both mothers and babies to be hurt" through phony certificates by "doctors, mothers, everybody" that the woman's life was actually in danger.
Before approving the bill, the committee debated but didn't on an amendment by Rep. Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) to direct HEW Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr. to cut $1.5 billion out of Hew programs. He said Califano had recently reported that up to $7 billion in HEW funds annually may be lost through waste and fraud, and argued that the amendment would spur Califano to slashes.
Reps. Daniel J. Flood (D-Pa.) and David R. Obey (D-Wis) argued that the proposed cut was too loosely worded and could result in attempts to curb entitlement programs like Mediciad and Medicare beneifts. Michel said he will offer it on the floor next week.
Carter actually asked $75 billion for Labor and HEW, but the committee deferred action of $17.6 billion of it - mainly for public service jobs and social programs like Head Start - because authorizing legislation hasn't been passed. It considered only a bit over $57 billion and raised this to $58 billion.